As published in the Immigration Daily on July 12, 2021
Preserving F-2B preference at the NVC or consulate.
In an earlier article, this writer questioned the procedure that applicants could use to notify USCIS that they wished to keep the F-2B designation as unmarried son or daughter of a permanent resident even as their petitioners naturalized, which move automatically changed their designations from F-2B to F-1 unmarried son or daughter of a US citizen. The aim of course is to immigrate at the earliest time, and the July 2021 visa chart shows that for all countries of the world except Mexico and the Philippines, there is visa availability for those filing I-130 petitions before 9/15/15 under the F-2 B category while there is only availability under the F-1 category for those filing by 11/15/14. The Child Status Protection Act (CSPA) allows for the preservation of the F-2B category with the agreement of USCIS, and the question was whether there was a fixed procedure for the retention of classification. It appears that there now is and in looking at the Department of State FAQs, the process is stated as the following:
- Applicants whose case is at NVC should submit requests using NVC’s online inquiry form. NVC will forward the request to USCIS and change the visa category back to F2B upon receipt of USCIS’s approval.
- Applicants whose case is at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate overseas should ask the embassy to submit a request on their behalf. The consular officer will forward the request and adjudicate the visa application in the F2B category only upon receipt of USCIS’s approval.
Although F-2B has been the faster category, there have been times in the past when F-1 was quicker. Applicants may wish to hold off making the decision on which category to choose until their cases are closer to visa availability.
Video interviews at Immigration.
Do not be surprised if you walk into the interview at USCIS and there is no officer there. From reports, video interviews with remote officers are being implemented to varying extents, and may comprise a good portion of future adjudications. In asylum interviews, attorneys complain about being placed in a chair in the middle of the room with no desk, facing the screen, and having the feeling of being in an interrogation setting. In naturalization cases, it appears that video interviews are being used more commonly, and the New York District office even has a new iPad unit. One attorney noted that at an interview in the New York District office, the iPad officer was from Ohio. While video interviews may be more appealing during the pandemic and take less time than traditional person-to-person interviews, one wonders how a remote officer can look at many items that an applicant brings in on the date of interview, or what happens when the applicant sent all the paperwork and documents through filing online or to a lockbox, and part of the documents for some reason do not make it to the system for the interview. As we all know, the reliance of electronic records is only as good as the people inputting the information. In cases involving bona fide marriage, applicants typically bring in reams of documentation to show an officer that they are living together with their spouses. An officer usually asks to see this or that, and applicants take the relevant documents from their bag or folder. In a video interview, how is an officer to get a good look at the documents or to determine whether they are genuine? Except by sending the applicants to the front desk or a clerk, how are the new documents to reach the remote officer?
New ground for denying China NIV applications.
As if we did not see enough bars on immigration during the Trump years, here is another one by the Department of State. In the State Department 5/27/21 liaison meeting with the American Immigration Lawyers Association, AILA raised reports of NIV rejections in China based on INA section 243(d) due to China’s failure to accept deported nationals, and DOS confirmed that 243(d) rejections are possible in China, but that this should not affect most student visa applications. It said that Chinese nationals subject to 243(d) can avoid that ground for denial if they apply at a consular post outside of China. The difficulty of course is the well-known reluctance of consulates in third countries to accept and adjudicate most nonimmigrant applications because of caseload and the belief that consulates in the home country are better equipped to handle cases of their own nationals.
Three items from USCIS on June 9, 2021, on EAD’s, RFE’s, and expedites:
- Initial and renewal EAD’s for adjustment of status cases will now be for two years instead of one.
- The old RFE policy from 2013 is back. That policy instructed officers to issue RFE’s in cases involving insufficient evidence before denying such cases unless the officer determined that there was no possibility that the benefit requester could overcome a finding of ineligibility by submitting additional evidence. In 2018, USCIS rescinded the no possibility policy and issued guidance that officers could deny benefit requests for lack of initial evidence without first sending an RFE or NOID.
- The expedite policy is tweaked with USCIS saying that it will generally not consider expedites where premium processing is available, but now will restore that ability for nonprofit organizations whose request is in the furtherance of the cultural and social interests of the United States. Otherwise the criteria are the same – severe financial loss to a company or person; emergencies and urgent humanitarian reasons; US government interests; clear USCIS error. Company financial loss can be recognized where it is at risk of failing, losing a critical contract, or required to lay off other employees – e.g. medical office if a gap in a doctor’s employment authorization would require laying off medical assistants.
The three changes by and large make for fairer and more efficient policy– the EAD change as it has largely been because of the increasing delays in adjudications that adjustment applicants must file second applications for EAD’s; the RFE change as petitioning organizations have a right to believe that USCIS will not unfairly flip-flop on subsequent petitions involving the same individual and same set of facts; and the expedite policy to allow nonprofits to obtain expedites without having to pay the same premium processing fee as private organizations with deeper pockets.
Where no administrative closure of cases in I-601A cases, the further actions that can be taken.
In the event that you are unable to adjust status here in the US, but have a good possibility of having an I-601A application for provisional waiver approved to consular interview overseas, yet are stymied by the ruling in Matter of Castro-Tum, 27 I&N Dec. 271 (AG 2018) which prevents immigration judges from administratively closing cases to allow the filing of such applications, the Biden administration is encouraging DHS to allow another form of relief. On May 27, 2021, DHS sent a memorandum to all OPLA (Office of the Principal Legal Advisor) attorneys entitled “Interim Guidance to OPLA Attorneys regarding Civil Immigration Enforcement and Removal Policies and Priorities” laying out the priority cases for enforcement as those affecting national security, border security against those unlawfully entering the US on or after 11/1/20, and aggravated felons or gang members determined to pose a threat to public security. It also listed all factors for prosecutorial discretion and encouraged that it be exercised at all stages of the enforcement process – and that “it may be appropriate for the Chief Counsel to conclude that a legally sufficient, appropriately documented administrative immigration case warrants non-filing of an NTA.” In light of the lack of administrative closure, it encouraged the use of continuances for “good cause shown” and seeking, opposing, or joining in motions for dismissal of proceedings. In the latter regard, the memo stated that it may be appropriate where the noncitizen has an approved I-130 and appears prima facie eligible for either adjustment of status “or an immigrant visa through consular processing abroad, including in conjunction with a provisional waiver of unlawful presence.”
Further news on Castro-Tum is encouraging as another dagger to the decision was struck recently by the Sixth Circuit in Garcia-de Leon v. Garland, No 20-3957 (6th Cir. 6/4/21), the court saying that immigration judges have the authority to administratively close cases for purposes of I-601A’s. Previously the Sixth Circuit had held in Hernandez-Serrano v. Barr, 981 F.3d 459 (6th Cir. 2020) that the regulations did not give IJ’s or the BIA general authority to administratively close immigration cases. So now, for purposes of I-601A cases, all four circuits that have decided on the matter have gone against Castro-Tum – the Third in Sanchez v. Atty. Gen., No. 20-1843 (3d Cir. 1/26/21), Fourth in Romero v. Barr, 937 F.3d 382 (4th Cir. 2019), Seventh in Meza-Morales v. Barr, 973 F.3d 656 (7th Cir. 2020), and now the Sixth.
Note: Following the writing of the above, Atty. Gen. Merrick Garland overruled Castro-Tum a few days later on July 15, 2021, in its entirety in Matter of Cruz-Valdez, 28 I&N Dec. 326 (AG 2021). This case dealt with an I-601A situation in which the immigration judge and the Board of Immigration Appeals had denied the motion for administrative closure as being foreclosed by Castro Tum. Atty. Gen. Garland determined that it was appropriate to overrule former AG Sessions’ opinion in Castro-Tum and to vacate the decision as well. The move by the Atty. Gen. will now revive the I-601A provisional waiver as an effective avenue of relief for those under immigration proceedings who cannot adjust status in the US.